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Cosmic Vision 2015-2025: The Solar System

30 January 2006

Theme 2 - How does the Solar System work?

The search for the origins of life set out in the first of the four themes for Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 must begin in our own Solar System. Understanding how the Sun behaves over a range of timescales, how the planets can be shielded from its radiative and plasma output, why the nine Solar System planets are so different from one another, and what the small bodies such as comets and asteroids can tell us about our origins - these are only a few aspects of the question.

The generic circumstances under which planets are habitable are unknown, but must depend on the radiative output and magnetic activity of the neighbouring star, on the behaviour of the space environment surrounding the planets, on the material from which the planets originally accreted, and so on.

The Sun dominates the Solar System. Its radiation provides the means to sustain life, but its continuous and occasionally violent activity provides the means to destroy it. Both are critically important areas to be studied. Only in the Solar System can we establish the zero-order truths concerning the Sun, its all-important magnetic field and the interaction of the solar wind with the planetary environments, which can then be extended to planetary systems elsewhere in the Universe.

Goal
Study the plasma and magnetic field environment of the Sun, the Earth, the Jovian system (as a Solar System in miniature), and out to the heliopause where the solar wind meets the interstellar medium

Concepts

  1. The Solar System, pervaded by the solar plasma and magnetic field, provides a range of laboratories to study the interactions of planets with the solar wind
  2. Understanding the origin of the Sun's magnetic field requires observations of the field at the visible surface around the poles
  3. In situ observation of the heliopause would provide 'ground truth' measurements of the interstellar medium

Mission Scenarios

  1. Earth magnetospheric swarm
  2. Jupiter exploration programme
  3. Solar polar orbiter
  4. Interstellar heliopause probe
     
In addition to the Sun and the interplanetary medium, the Solar System comprises the planets, their satellites, small bodies such as comets and asteroids, and dust. How this possibly unique environment arose and how it has evolved are scientific questions of the highest importance. Answering it involves the detailed study of all of these objects. In respect of the major planets and their moons, ESA has already taken major initiatives with the Huygens probe to Titan, the SMART-1 mission to the Moon, Mars Express, Venus Express and the BepiColombo mission being prepared for Mercury. To continue its prominent role, ESA needs to choose carefully further aspects of planetary science to pursue in the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 timeframe. The main goal should now be an in-depth exploration of one of the giant planets in the outer Solar System, of which Jupiter is the most accessible.

Goal
Study Jupiter in situ, its atmosphere and internal structure
Study Europan surface in situ

Concepts

  1. Giant planets with their rings, diverse satellites and complex environments constitute systems that play a key role in the evolution of planetary systems

Mission Scenarios

  1. Jupiter exploration programme
  2. Jupiter probes
  3. Europa lander
     
As the primitive, leftover building blocks of planet formation, small bodies of the Solar System offer clues to the chemical mixture from which the planets formed. They hold unique information on the initial conditions and early history of the solar nebula, and their study is essential to understanding the processes by which interstellar material becomes new planetary systems with the possibility of bearing life.

Goal
Obtain direct laboratory information by analysing samples from a near-Earth asteroid

Concepts

  1. As building blocks in the Solar System, the most primitive small bodies give clues to the chemical mixture and initial conditions from which the planets formed in the early solar nebula

Mission Scenarios

  1. Near-Earth object sample return

 


Last Update: 20 March 2013

For further information please contact: SciTech.editorial@esa.int

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